Managing Distractions as an Online Student

Tips for Finding the Right School-Life Balance

Online learning can be affordable and convenient. It allows people in rural areas and those with full-time work or family responsibilities to earn a degree. Some programs even let out-of-state learners pay in-state rates. However, without the structure of a traditional classroom, online learning can also be challenging and incite distractions.

Top distractions for students include social media, texting, television, and family, which can pull one's attention away from the task at hand and diminish productivity. It is important for all students to maintain a healthy school-life balance so their responsibilities aren't neglected, but online students in particular need to create structure to ensure they stay on track to achieve their academic goals.

Meet the Expert

Cari DeCandia

Originally from New York, Cari came to North Carolina as a scholarship athlete at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she played softball for the Spartans. After graduating with a BA in psychology and a minor in coaching, Cari started her career in the corporate world and spent the next 15 years with a variety of employers, including Fortune 100 companies and small startups working in business development and sales. While she enjoyed many aspects of her career and was successful by most people's standards, Cari realized she did not feel fulfilled.

Cari decided to go back to school and pursue advanced degrees in her original passion of sport and performance psychology. She realized she felt most alive when learning the skills of achievement and then sharing that knowledge with others so they could also realize their potential. Cari earned her MS in sport and performance psychology and will finish her Ed.D. in the same subject in June 2019. She is now the principal consultant at Momentum Performance Consulting, LLC and is thrilled to work with university athletes and businesses to help them reach their potential.

Main Distractions for Online Students

Working full time and being a mother to two young children (ages 1 and 5 when I started my graduate program), I had a lot of distractions as an online student. The main challenge was time management. It was very easy to let other aspects in my life take priority over my school because there were not specific times when I had to attend classes.

The school I attended used a quarter system, which lasted for 10 weeks. Typically, assignments were due at the end of the week on Sundays. If I didn't plan appropriately, my weekends were spent playing catch-up, which only resulted in a lousy weekend and increased stress.

I learned early on that I had to go through the syllabus and make note of any larger papers or projects and schedule time for those as well as my weekly assignments. If I didn't schedule time to be solely focused on the work I needed to complete for school, I found myself behind at the end of the week. Also, once I took the time to plan properly and work on assignments that were due first, it saved me a lot of unnecessary stress.

Cari DeCandia

Common distractions for college students include technology, work, and family. As an online student, your classroom is often your home, and these distractions may seem nearly impossible to avoid. Social media and texts ping you with notifications, and the temptation to respond can pull at your attention. Even family members can represent distractions by talking to you, innocently asking questions. It can be hard to say no to loved ones, but it is important to establish boundaries and make sure everyone understands which disruptions are acceptable and which should wait until your study time is complete.

Managing technological distractions can be especially challenging when you need to use your phone or computer to study and complete coursework. An effective way to manage distractions is to turn off notifications or use an app that can block websites so you won't be tempted to stray from your assignments. Other ways to manage distractions as an online student include getting more organized, setting a schedule, planning out assignments and projects each term, and avoiding procrastination.

Creating a work-school-life balance plan can help you stay focused by allowing you to see a clear path to graduation. You should also work with your family to share household responsibilities and make sure you take time for mental breaks to recharge.

Apps That Help Online Learners Focus

I used the calendar on my phone quite a bit for blocking off time to complete my work. I also used Wunderlist on a daily basis, which allowed me to easily schedule individual tasks and then set reminders. I used this app over the calendar to prevent my calendar from being cluttered with tasks. It also syncs easily across all devices.

Besides these two, which were purely for scheduling and helping me to stay on track, the number one app I used was Dropbox. I created a folder for each class and then subfolders for articles I had to read and weekly assignments I had written. This was a lifesaver as I was able to easily go back and see assignments I had previously submitted or articles I had already read for other classes. I was also able to access these documents from my tablet, phone, or computer since it is cloud-based. If I found myself with a few extra minutes waiting, I could easily pull up a research article I needed to read.

Cari DeCandia

Technology connects college students with friends, family, and other entertainment, but it also can distract them from completing coursework. Therefore, learners need to find ways to mitigate these distractions and stay focused. Fortunately, certain apps on mobile phones and computers can help you manage your time and stay on track.

Quizlet app logo This study aid allows users to create flashcards, play educational games, and access study tools created by other users. You can download the app for free on mobile phones or desktop computers.
Simplenote app logo Simplenote is a free iOS, Android, and web-based app that helps users organize notes, lists, and ideas across multiple devices. Users can pin or tag notes, making it easy to search and reference them when needed.
Focus Booster app logo Focus Booster is a time management app for mobile and desktop devices. Its timer gives students 25 minutes to work, punctuated by short breaks to refocus.
Freedom app logo The Freedom app allows users to block websites, apps, or even the entire internet for a set amount of time so they can remain focused and stay productive. The app is available for all iOS, Windows, and Mac systems.
RescueTime app logo RescueTime blocks websites and tracks app usage. It helps users compare the time they spend on work-related or school-related apps against potential time-wasting apps like social media; this can help users adjust their behavior.

 

The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

It is important to maintain a healthy work-school-life balance to prevent burn out. Good time management might involve speaking with your family, a mentor, friends, or work manager to establish goals; setting expectations for the time you need to study and manage your current responsibilities; or rigorously scheduling your tasks and assignments. When a new term starts, look at your course syllabi and map out how you plan to complete assignments. Then, stick to that schedule as closely as you can.

Time management is a key aspect to being a successful student, but you also need to make time to take care of yourself and rest. Try and maintain healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping habits; these behaviors significantly impact your ability to stay energized and focused. If you do start feeling stressed, you should establish an activity you know will help you decompress. Examples include taking a walk, calling a friend, taking deep breaths, or stepping away for a glass of water. In general, make a plan and stick with it. You also need to listen to yourself and get help if you are feeling overwhelmed.

How to Choose the Right Online School

In my field of sport psychology, it was important to me to find a program that focused on the applied aspects versus research because I wanted to work with athletes as compared to doing research. I was also impressed with the work that the professors they hired to teach the classes were doing because they were all practitioners first and professors second.

I also preferred a university that did not require GREs. It had been some time since I graduated with my BA and the thought of having to study for a standardized test was not appealing. In my research of programs, most of the online universities had similar technological features, so that was less of a consideration for me.

Cari DeCandia

The sheer number of online degree programs can make picking one seem overwhelming. A few key things to look for when determining the quality of an online degree include accreditation status, graduation rates, and school reputation. Students should also determine whether a program uses a synchronous or asynchronous format. Asynchronous programs allow students to complete coursework at their convenience, as long as they turn in assignments before scheduled due dates. Alternatively, synchronous programs require students to log on at specified times to attend class virtually.

You should also research whether your school offers tutoring or access to reputable resources in case you need extra help staying focused or understanding course concepts. You might also speak with a program adviser to learn more about a program's specific requirements. By understanding expectations in advance, you can plan ahead, establish a routine to avoid common distractions, and maintain a healthy school-life balance.

Online Student Resources

Online learning is convenient, but it comes with unique challenges. Students can be easily distracted or feel lost if they aren't sure where to get help with coursework. While many colleges and universities offer their own resources, students should also be aware of external sources of assistance.

  • eTutoring: This resource connects students with qualified tutors. Students can schedule virtual sessions or get feedback on their writing.
  • MindTools: This site offers tools to develop skills and help students manage their time and stress.
  • Open Culture: This site curates free courses, e-books, and other educational resources. It also serves as a research tool.
  • Khan Academy: This free resource offers video tutorials created by industry experts on various academic topics. It is a helpful site for students who want to test or expand their knowledge of course topics.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Offered through Purdue University, this writing resource provides information about formatting, grammar, citations, style guides, and conducting research.